Even as the nation’s largest public school system shut its doors, 6,400 essential frontline workers continue to clean and maintain schools, resource centers and meal distribution sites amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Workers risk their own health and the health of their families to keep students and staff safe at these buildings that provide vital resources to their communities.
To salute these workers, a caravan including Councilman Francisco Moya and 32BJ staff drove through some of the most impacted neighborhoods in Queens Tuesday morning to show support for the 32BJ SEIU cleaners and maintenance workers in Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Height and Woodside.
“Working-class heroes are on the frontlines risking everything for the health and safety of Queens residents and New Yorkers in every borough,” Moya said. “Every day, 32BJ cleaners and handypersons work tirelessly to protect those who rely on our schools and resource centers for survival during the pandemic.”
Moya, a lifelong resident of Corona, crunched the numbers after the city’s health department released new data and found that the neighborhoods of Corona and East Elmhurst have more total COVID-19 cases than 18 other states while Corona alone has more deaths than 23 states.
“We must go beyond saying ‘thank you’ to these heroes by fully investing in the New York City School Support Services to ensure they can stay on the job and earn the wages they deserve,” Moya said, adding that he would prioritize and protect the workers whose jobs could be affected by funding changes in the fiscal year 2021 budget.
“I’m proud to be contributing and working right now. I care about the students, the staff, and their families, and I want to be a part of the solution by cleaning essential schools that people really rely on right now,” said Mark Anthony Espinoza, a cleaner at Information Technology High School in Long Island City. “It’s great to be thanked and recognized for our work, but what we really need is funding and support. COVID-19 has affected me personally, and my wife and I have a baby on the way. I need to keep my salary and benefits, it’s only fair to the people working on the frontlines doing the jobs that can’t be done from home.”
Those in the caravan praised the workers for feeding and servicing their communities during the pandemic on stops at Q061, Q019, and Q143 in Corona, Q127 in East Elmhurst, Q069 in Jackson Heights and Q398 in Woodside.
“You have always been essential and need to be recognized. Often you’re left out, but we’re going to make sure that everyone, the community, the city, our elected leaders, understands how vital your work is to our neighborhoods and our city,” 32BJ Vice President Shirley Aldebol said. “I want to make sure that we not just say thank you, but fight to make sure that the budget for the NYCSSS is fully funded so that you’re able to do the work that you need to do, with PPE, and at the pay rate you deserve. Ensuring that NYC’s public school buildings are clean and safe must be a top priority in budget discussions.”